- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2016

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday said the U.S. is “not serious” about defeating Islamic State terrorists and called America’s efforts counterproductive and a violation of international law.

The embattled Syrian leader made the remarks during an extensive interview with NBC News from his office in Damascus, nearly two years after the U.S. and its allies began launching airstrikes in Syria with the intent of eradicating the terror group also known as ISIS.

Speaking to NBC’s Bill Neely, Mr. Assad downplayed the effectiveness of those assaults and credited Russia, Syria’s long-time ally, with turning the tides in its fight against the Islamic State.

“The Russian support of the Syrian army has tipped the scales against the terrorists,” the president said. “It was the crucial factor.”

“The reality is telling that, since the beginning of the American airstrikes, the terrorism has been expanding and prevailing,” Mr. Assad added. “It only shrinked when the Russians intervened.”

The U.S. first announced in September 2014 that it was launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria alongside the militaries of Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Russia began conducting strikes of its own 12 months later at the request of the Syrian government.

Mr. Assad said anti-Islamic State efforts led by the U.S. infringe on Syria’s sovereignty and constitute a violation of international law as recognized by the United Nations.

“It’s the right of any government to invite any other country to help in any issue. [S]ince the Russian intervention, terrorism has been, let’s say, regressing, while before that, and during the American illegal intervention with their allies, ISIS was expanding and terrorism was expanding and taking over new areas in Syria. They’re not serious. So, I cannot say I welcome the un-seriousness and to be in Syria illegally.”

The Syrian civil war that began to take hold in 2011 largely as a result of anti-Assad protests have resulted in roughly 400,000 casualties so far, according to the U.N. and Arab League Envoy to Syria, as well as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with officials in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the possibility of combining forces to fight the Islamic State terrorists, one of several factions currently going up against Mr. Assad’s regime.

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